By the time of the 'Scramble for Africa' in the late nineteenth century, Africa had already been globally connected for many centuries. Its gold had fuelled the economies of Europe and Islamic world since around 1000, and its sophisticated kingdoms had traded with Europeans along the coasts from Senegal down to Angola since the fifteenth century. Until at least 1650, this was a trade of equals, using a variety of currencies – most importantly shells: the cowrie shells imported from the Maldives, and the nzimbu shells imported from Brazil.
Toby Green's groundbreaking new book transforms our view of West and West-Central Africa. It reconstructs the world of kingdoms whose existence (like those of Europe) revolved around warfare, taxation, trade, diplomacy, complex religious beliefs, royal display and extravagance, and the production of art.
Over time, the relationship between Africa and Europe revolved ever more around the trade in slaves, damaging Africa's relative political and economic power as the terms of monetary exchange shifted drastically in Europe's favour. In spite of these growing capital imbalances, longstanding contacts ensured remarkable connections between the Age of Revolution in Europe and America and the birth of a revolutionary nineteenth century in Africa.
A Fistful of Shells draws not just on written histories, but on archival research in nine countries, on art, praise-singers, oral history, archaeology, letters, and the author's personal experience to create a new perspective on the history of one of the world's most important regions.
List of Maps
Note on Spellings/Names
Causes: Economic Divergence in West and West- Central Africa
Timelines for Part One
1 ‘Three Measures of Gold’: The Rise and Fall of the Great Empires of the Sahel
2 Causeways across the Savannah: From Senegambia to Sierra Leone
3 Ready Money: The Gold Coast and the Gold Trade
4 Rivers of Cloth, Masks of Bronze: The Bights of Benin and Biafra
5 The Kingdom of Kongo: From Majesty to Revolt
Coda to Part One
Consequences: Politics, Belief and Revolutions from Below
Timeline for Part Two: West African Political History, c. 1680–1850
Prologue to Part Two
6 ‘With Boots Worth 3 Slaves’: Slavery and Value in the Eighteenth Century
7 On a War Footing: The ‘Fiscal- Military State’ in West African Politics
8 Feeding Power: New Societies, New Worldviews
9 Transnational Africas, Struggle and the Rising of Modernity
10 Warrior Aristocracies and Pushback from Below
11 Let them Drink Rum! Islam, Revolution and the Aristocracy
List of Illustrations